2006 Free Agent Pitchers Revisited

The signing of Esteban Loaiza last November was one of Billy Beane's most surprising and controversial moves. Most thought that $7 Million per year was way too much for a team with a small budget to be paying for a pitcher with such a mixed track record, while a minority suggested that, with equally mediocre pitchers signing for even more, it could actually prove to be a bargain.

With Loaiza having apparently made his last start of the regular season, I thought it would be a good time to look at how the year's crop of free agent pitchers performed.

                  Contract      2006 Performance
                 Yrs  $Mil/yr     IP      ERA
Kevin Millwood    5     12       209     4.52
Tim Hudson        4     12       218     4.86
AJ Burnett        5     11       135     3.98
Jarrod Washburn   4      9.5     187     4.67
Matt Morris       3      9       208     4.98
Jeff Weaver       1      8.5     167     5.79
Kenny Rogers      2      8       202     3.79
Esteban Loaiza    3      7       151     4.84
Paul Byrd         2      7       172     4.87

I included Hudson because 2006 would have been his first year of free agency, though he signed his contract extension with Atlanta a full year early.

Only two of the nine pitchers managed to put up an ERA below 4. Kenny Rogers looks like the only real bargain, with the lowest ERA and one of the cheaper and shorter-term contracts. (Yeah, yeah, monkeyball, we know). Next was A.J. Burnett, but he was close to the top in salary and missed nearly half the season to injury.

Six of the nine pitchers, including Hudson and Loaiza, had an ERA around league average, somewhere between 4.50 and 5.00. Of these, Loaiza and Byrd were by far the cheapest, though, like Burnett, Loaiza missed a significant amount of time to injury.

The biggest disappointment (for the team who signed him and their fans, at least) was Jeff Weaver, who had an ERA of nearly six between Anaheim and St. Louis. The fact that his deal was for only one year prevents it from being a total disaster, but there was still a significant opportunity cost in the innings and dollars wasted on such poor performance.

Surprisingly, even after his horrible start, Loaiza so far has been the third-best "bargain" of the nine pitchers, after Rogers and Byrd. That really says more about how expensive free-agent pitching is than it does about Loaiza's performance. And whether it will remain true depends, of course, on the remaining years of the contract.

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